Women log on to corner offices at technology companies

BANGALORE: Women are increasingly occupying corner offices at technology companies in India, indicating that diversity policies and enhanced hiring of women is beginning to have the desired impact. IBM on Thursday announced the appointment of Vanitha Narayanan as its managing director for Indian operations, the company's largest outside the US. She has had over 25 years of experience working for IBM. Last October, Intel appointed Kumud Srinivasan as president of its India operations. Kumud too has had a 25-year stint with Intel spanning multiple roles across software, services and consulting practice.

Neelam Dhawan heads Hewlett-Packard in India, Aruna Jayanthi has been heading Capgemini India since January 2011, Akila Krishnakumar has been heading SunGard in India for years, and Kirthiga Reddy was chosen to head Facebook in India when the social media giant started its operations here in 2010. HP chief Dhawan was previously MD of Microsoft India while Facebook's Reddy was with Phoenix Technologies, Motorola and Silicon Graphics.

Jayanthi joined Capgemini in early 2000 and was part of the core team that initiated and set up Capgemini's offshore capabilities. With over 40,000 employees, Capgemini India is one of the biggest business units of the Capgemini group.

Under Krishnakumar's leadership, SunGard's India footprint has grown by an unparalleled 40% year-on-year. She also helped expand the SunGard R&D footprint to China and Tunisia.

Technology companies in India have a high proportion of women - between 30% and 50% of their workforce - which partly accounts for the rising numbers at the top. But the fact that almost all of the women CEOs are in MNCs is also an indication that it's the result of the robust diversity policies that they have adopted and implemented.

"MNCs have better diversity policies and this has been a topic of interest and consideration in the West," says Nishchae Suri, MD of global HR consultancy Mercer India. Many of their Indian subsidiaries, he says, have adapted those practices. "The strengths of Yin and Yang are brought to mainstream business operations impacting firms positively," he says.

Gaurav Lahiri, MD of global management consulting firm Hay Group India, says there needs to be 15-20 years of lead time to make generational changes in senior management teams. "Except for the financial services sector in India, others have ignored diversity at the top. Companies have to make a concerted effort to groom women leaders for corner office positions," he says.

Grant Thornton International Business Report 2012 finds that in countries with relatively patriarchal cultures, the proportion of women in senior management is much lower. It is 5% in Japan, 14% in India and 15% in the United Arab Emirates.

Most often, family demands force women to opt out of their careers. "The exodus accelerates when women are in a mid-management position in their 30s. They sacrifice their career over family priorities. Hence, companies have to look at work-life balance seriously," he says. This is the reason why even in the IT industry that has a high proportion of women at lower levels, the numbers at the top remain relatively much lower.

Mercer's Asia-Pacific Leadership Development Practices Study finds that 72% of the companies that participated in the survey lacked a defined diversity strategy to build women leaders. Among those companies that acknowledged barriers to advancement by women leaders, a large percentage blamed their managers either because they were unwilling to promote non-traditional candidates or were simply biased. "Organizations also blame women for showing unwillingness to promote themselves," the report says.